, January 2005
"Comparison Recordings of the Sibelius concerto:
Jascha Heifetz, Walter Hendl, [ADD] RCA 61744
Anne Sophie Mutter, André Previn, DG 447 895-2
The first question when an unfamiliar violinist tackles the Sibelius, possibly the most difficult violin concerto in the popular repertoire is, "Can he play it?". The answer in this case is, after peeking ahead to the gruelling virtuoso passages in the last movement, "Most certainly yes, as good as Heifetz!" So, knowing that, we can relax and hear the first parts of the concerto, knowing we dont have to steel ourselves for a bumpy ride at the end. Dont be fooled by the price tag. This is a performance to be ranked among the best, a courageous re-thinking of a popular work.
This DVD-Audio is one of the most realistic concerto recordings Ive ever heard. The violin sounds like it is on stage with the orchestra, heard as from about the fifteenth row in a good hall. The usually encountered recording perspective is that of the conductor with the solo violin very close and generally sounding equally as loud as the whole orchestra. In the DVD-Audio tracks the orchestral tuttis are at full concert volume, the violin at solo volume, both clearly audible at all times, the dynamic range almost too great at times for comfortable listening. If you find this so, listen to the AC-3 or DTS tracks for a reduced dynamic range which gives a viewpoint closer to the conventional dynamic balance. Or buy the Naxos CD version. My experience suggests that the SACD version will also have reduced dynamic range.
Kraggeruds performance is very personal. In the DVD-Audio version, the violinist is all but inaudibly soft upon his entry, with a steady build in intensity to the first tutti in the first movement, the loudest moment in the whole work. The style is cool, reflective, affectionate, ruminative, introspective, in contrast to Mutters flaming, almost Gypsy-like passion and Heifetz’s brisk forward motion. The first movement timings tell the story: Kraggerud, 16.16 versus Heifetz at 13.30.
The Sibelius Serenade is similar to the Humoresques in length and texture, but is much more solemn and sad. At one moment, we almost hear the Swan of Tuonela singing, at others there is a brief bright country dance.
Sinding was born in Königsberg and trained partly in Leipzig, but adopted Norwegian nationality. The Sinding Concerto is clearly from an earlier aesthetic, at first reminding one very much of Bruch, there being no particular resemblance to Sinding’s famous piano solo The Rustle of Spring, the almost comically Wagnerian work that made Sinding’s reputation. The sharp transition from the bright and extroverted concerto’s opening allegro energico to the subsequent sombre, moody andante is strikingly original. Then, just as abruptly we are back in the sunlight to finish off with a sprightly country dance.
Sinding’s Romance in D is just that, a more self-consciously theatrical work than any others on this disk, at times almost sounding like an operatic scene.
Kraggerud’s performance is superb throughout all these works, bringing deep expression and exquisite tone to the changing moods. Orchestra and conductor make their full contribution to the drama of these works.
There seems to be no menu from which to select tracks in advance, you just play the disk and skip forward from track 1 as you want."